GGKP Working Group Finds Major Data Gaps In Environmental Rule of Law

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6 March 2019

“Without environmental rule of law, development cannot be sustainable,” said Joyce Myusa, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment, in the recently launched Environmental Rule of Law: Global Report.

She goes on to discuss how the creation, implementation, and enforcement of strong environmental laws in Costa Rica has enabled the country to build per capita income to almost US$9,000, double its forest cover to over 50 percent, and make remarkable progress towards climate neutrality by 2021.

In order to truly understand the role of the environmental rule of law—and how it needs to evolve to catalyse inclusive green growth—we must first take stock of the state of environmental law at the national and global level, as well as the institutions and legal systems that ensure its implementation and enforcement.

In this context, the GGKP Expert Working Group on Green Growth and the Law has released the working paper, Environmental Rule of Law: An analysis of data availability. The paper aims to provide a comprehensive review of currently available datasets that allow for the measurement of environmental rule of law.

The results were sobering. The report finds major data shortages in environmental rule of law at the global and national level, and that existing datasets are limited in scope and non-comparable.

Key findings:

  • No global datasets on environmental rule of law, though emerging attempts to track environmental rule of law were identified;
  • Few publicised national datasets - only two were found (in the US and Chile);
  • Non-comparable, limited datasets within individual reports produced by both environmental authorities and international organisations.

"Linkages between the rule of law and Agenda 2030 are undeniable. Environmental rule of law is key to achieving many of the sustainable development goals targets, and the lack of data on compliance and enforcement of environmental laws represents a hindrance to measuring progress towards these goals. Therefore, the recommendations of this report are fundamental for Agenda 2030," says Ana Barreira, Director and founding member of Instituto Internacional de Derecho y Medio Ambiente (IIDMA).

The group—which includes representation from World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), WWF, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)—sought in particular datasets with indicators measuring enforcement and compliance. Given the data limitations, the analysis attempted to identify proxies in more general rule of law indicators. However, inconsistent definitions of ‘the rule of law’ prevented substitution and robust analysis.

“The data gap is a key barrier to improving environmental progress worldwide and to assessing the link between environmental rule of law and green growth,” says John Maughan, Research Programme Manager at Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP). “At a time when we know that urgent action must be taken, we still cannot tell you if an environmental law is working or just more hot air.”

This paper recommends six pathways for addressing this data gap:

  • Support global initiatives compiling indicators and data at national or sub-national levels;
  • Develop a global statistical standard or set of harmonized practices for indicator development and data collection on environmental enforcement and compliance;
  • Assess the collection of environmental enforcement data at the national and sub-national levels;
  • Engage national and sub-national authorities to improve local measures of environmental enforcement and compliance;
  • Conduct a review of case studies to explore national and subnational environmental enforcement practices in specific contexts; and
  • Link efforts to measure environmental rule of law to efforts to measure rule of law in general.

“Much of the data is out there—for instance, we know that the number of environmental laws has multiplied since 1972—but what we don’t know is how to access it, understand it, and implement it to tackle the root causes of the enforcement and compliance challenge,” said the group’s Co-Chairs, Charles Di Leva, former Chief Counsel for the Environmental and International Law Unit at the World Bank, and Claudia de Windt, Senior Legal Specialist for the Organizations of American States. “Once we can overcome this barrier, the existing framework can be used to make a difference that transforms environmental stressors into true green growth.”

This working paper comes at a pivotal moment for environmental rule of law, as global institutions including UN Environment and the International Law Commission are calling for a greater understanding of the state of environmental law worldwide, and stronger enforcement of environmental laws and regulations to help meet global climate and sustainable development goals.

“The benefits of environmental rule of law extend far beyond the environmental sector,” states the Environmental Rule of Law: Global Report. “While the most direct effects are in protection of the environment, it also strengthens rule of law more broadly, supports sustainable economic and social development, protects public health, contributes to peace and security by avoiding and defusing conflict, and protects human and constitutional rights. As such, it is a growing priority for all countries.”



The GGKP Green Growth and the Law Working Group was formed due to the importance rule of law and legal frameworks play in enabling green growth. Green growth is supported through legal and regulatory reforms that strengthen governance systems and human rights, encourage economic growth and equity, and promote the environmental rule of law. The goal of the group was to collaboratively assess knowledge and data gaps around environmental enforcement and compliance. The group’s working paper, Environmental Rule of Law: An analysis of data availability (2019), is a result of that work.